The University of Alabama men’s basketball team is firmly in an unenvious position, from at least two angles.
First, the Crimson Tide is headed into its toughest week of the season schedule-wise, facing No. 19 South Carolina and No. 15 Kentucky with no momentum at all coming off a pair of losses to more manageable opponents, Arkansas and Auburn, last week.
There’s also the problem of offensively-challenged Alabama, currently the No. 13 team in scoring offense in the SEC (exactly one layup ahead of last-place Missouri) going into a road game against the Gamecocks who are, to quote UA coach Avery Johnson, “one of the best defensive teams in the country.”
South Carolina currently leads the SEC in scoring defense, field goal defense and 3-point defense, all by substantial margins. That defense is the major reason South Carolina currently leads the SEC standings with a 9-1 mark in league play.
“They try to disrupt your offense from the beginning, so it’s important that we take care of the ball and get some easy baskets,” Johnson said. “If you just try to attack their set defense, you’re going to have a hard time.”
Coming off a Saturday loss to Auburn in which the Crimson Tide allowed AU to make 15 3-pointers, Johnson was asked what makes the South Carolina defense so effective.
“There are situations where they don’t help defensively,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to use an NBA term, but they just play ‘mano y mano.’ They do not leave their man, they just play straight up. If a team helps, then you’re playing offense 4-on-3 or 3-on-2 somewhere else, but they rarely allow you to do that. Then, when they do go to a scramble defense and trap the ball, they are very sound at doing that.”
The Gamecocks also have two accomplished scorers in Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier, while Alabama is still looking for what Johnson called “consistent energy.”
“We started our video session on Sunday by showing (the players) the positives, mainly in the last two minutes (when Alabama cut a 15-point AU lead down to four points). But the bigger question is why … we didn’t have that type of energy through the entire game. We’ve had some stretches where played pretty well, but that’s not going to be good enough against South Carolina.”
Alabama at No. 19 South Carolina
When: 5:30 p.m. CT
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
Records: Alabama 13-9 (6-4 SEC). South Carolina (19-4, 9-1 SEC)
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 95.3 FM